Vocal Warm-ups

Baby, it’s hot outside!  

But if you exercise regularly, you know how important dynamic warm-ups and cool-downs are to the success of your workout.  They help to reduce the likelihood of injuries, enhance flexibility and comfort, minimize fatigue, and enhance overall performance. 

Warming up your voice can have the same benefits. Before presentations, meetings, other public speaking tasks, or even simple conversations, a quick warm-up is essential.

 A 10-15 minute vocal warm-up will help you speak with a loud, clear, and pleasant sounding voice. You don’t need to be a professional singer. Just find a cool, quiet space, and give these simple exercises a try.

Just breathe:  Breathe gently and slowly in through your nose, and exhale slowly through your mouth. Feel yourself letting go of any tension in your body. Imagine you are trying to get a candle to flicker. To encourage diaphragmatic breathing, imagine that your nostrils are in your belly! In your mind, say“just ...breathe,” or “let... go,” on the inhalation and exhalation. If you have trouble coordinating belly breathing, place your hands around your rib cage. Feel your back widen on the inhale, and contract on the exhale. Try to make your exhale longer than your inhalation. Be careful not to hike up your shoulders, or tense your neck as you do these exercises. Repeat ten times.

          Benefits: Abdominal-diaphragmatic breathing fuels your voice, allowing you to project and sustain your voice without trailing off at the end of a statement. Simple breathing also helps you focus and concentrate by increasing oxygen to your brain; it can also relax any jittery nerves. 

Yawn and Sigh: Open your mouth wide and start with a slow relaxed yawn, followed by a gentle sigh, "ah."

          Benefits: This exercise opens up the space in your mouth and throat. It exercises facial muscles, lifts the soft palate, and releases the jaw. It also increases oxygen to the brain. 

Lip trills: Gently touch your lips together.  Breathe in softly, and as you release the breath vibrate your lips quickly making a “raspberry” sound (it sounds like a horse!). Try these five times without using your voice, and then try to make a “b’ sound as you produce the lip trills. Finally, glide up and down the scale as you make the voiced trills. Repeat five times. 

          Benefits: Lip trills with our without voice helps to relax your lips and minimizes tension in your vocal cords. 

Tongue trills: Gently put your tongue behind your upper front teeth and make a trilled /r/ sound. Make sure you keep your voice engaged. Try five times and then make the trilled /r/ sound as you glide up and down the scales like a siren. 

          Benefits: These exercises relax the tongue and help with articulation and oral flexibility. 

Sirens: Start at your lowest comfortable pitch, and glide up saying “ooo,” or “eee” to your highest comfortable note, and back down again. Sustain your voice the whole time. Repeat five times.

          Benefits: Sirens improve your pitch range and strengthen your vocal cords. It will help you speak with more variety and inflection. 

 Hum: Say, Mmm-hmm (like you are agreeing with someone). Feel the tickle (vibration) around your nose and mouth; you should not feel it in your throat.  Repeat five times. Now hum “Happy Birthday.” Next hum up and down a musical scale. 

           Benefits: Humming helps you to create resonant vocal quality and take the tension away from your larynx. It allows your voice to sound rich and pleasant vs. whiny and thin. It also helps you develop vocal variety (pitch changes) when speaking. 

 Tongue Twisters: Say the following tongue twisters five times in a row as fast as you can. 

Dave dives daringly into the deep, dark, sea.

Karl came to cry about Cara’s cavalier cavorting. 

Cheerful children have chubby cheeks.

Please pass the pink peony to Penelope.

Billy brazenly broke a big, blue balloon.

My menacing mastiff meanders through the mire every morning.

Let’s linger over a laugh and a latte before leaving.

Fred fried fritters for his family of four.

Red leather, yellow leather

          Benefits: These verbal agility exercises develop flexibility and help you clearly enunciate sounds for more understandable speech.

End with the breathing and humming exercises described above. 

 If you would like a more challenging workout, check out the 10-minute vocal warm-up for women on YouTube


You Say Either, and I Say.......

Yes, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers sang and danced about different, but acceptable alternative pronunciations (in roller skates, no less!) in the classic film, "Shall We Dance." 

If you are struggling to find the perfect way to say a word, you may be relieved to know that there are often a few acceptable options. Sometimes, it depends on what region you live in. 

Regional dialects may have different pronunciations, and even different word choices. For example, do we drink soda or pop, eat heroes, subs, or hoagies? 

Our first suggestion is to listen to how people say it in your region. For example, we may hear various pronunciations or stress patterns for "New Orleans,"  or "Oregon." Some say "New ORleans" and others say "New OrLEANS" or "ORegin" vs. "OreGone." 

Names of cities often have pronunciations that do not always follow the phonetic rules. "Taneytown" is pronounced "Tawneytown" and "Staunton" is pronounced "Stanton." If you are in the Massachusetts area, you would be challenged by many cities such as "Barnstable" pronounced as "Barnstuhbul" or "Worcester" pronounced as "Wooster." 

There is no right or wrong. Different regions have their own pronunciation for places and names. Check out our Boston RULES to learn how you can address some word choices and pronunciations of the New England Area. 

Wuz Up with Texting?

Trying to familiarize yourself with the thousands of text message and chat abbreviations can be overwhelming. I often find myself consulting with my teenage acquaintances and family members to stay on top of the most important ones. A client recently commented that she received a message from a colleague, but didn’t know what LOL meant. 

IMHO, I thought an intervention might be in order.

This conversation actually reminded me of a funny story that my daughter once told me.

A mother was trying to be “hip,” and decided to send her daughter a text message to inform her that a beloved relative had passed away.  Mom wrote, “Aunt Susie passed away in her sleep last night. LOL. Mom.”

The daughter called her mother (gasp; she actually opted for a live conversation) and said, “Mom, what is funny about Aunt Susie dying? Why did you say, Laughing out Loud?”

Mom sheepishly said, “Oh. I thought it meant, Lots of Love.”

If you can relate to the mom more than the daughter in this story, it is time to brush up on some abbreviations that you may find on your own cell phone!

LOL: Laughing out loud

BRB: Be right back

IMHO: In my humble opinion

TMI: Too much information

K: Okay

2MOR: Tomorrow

2NTE: tonight

AAK: Asleep at the keyboard

TTYL: Talk to you later

GTG: Got to go

OFC: Of course

If you need more help, you can check out Text Messaging Survival Guide by Jack Shoeman, or “Google it!” The abbreviations are constantly evolving! 


"You Can't Get They-ah From He-ah"

Perhaps you have heard the traditional New England expression, “You can’t get they-ah from he-ah.” If not, you must first imagine a Maine fisherman uttering this expression in a very strong Boston accent to an out of town tourist. 

It basically means there is no easy or direct route from where you are to where you are going. 

Unfortunately, many people giving presentations ascribe to this old adage, resulting in rambling, disorganized, and/or dreadfully boring talks. Their presentations are often littered with vocal fillers such as, “uh,” “um,” “you know,” “like I was saying,” etc., as the speaker is searching for a way to tie the slides or ideas together.  This results in a distracting, disjointed, and confusing presentation.  

One of the most important things a speaker can do is to use transitional phrases effectively to connect the dots and alert the audience to important points, creating a cohesive and unified message.  

We are not talking about reading the title on the slide or comments such as, “This slide shows,” and “Next...” offered in a never-ending loop.   

Good transition statements help the audience follow the two or three main ideas of the presentation and see how the ideas on the slides are connected and relevant. 

Here are a few tips for using transitional statements:

 1.     Try to keep the tone conversational. “Let’s begin with an overview of ...., followed by ....., and finally we will finish up with ...."  This is preferable to “Here is today’s agenda for my talk.”

 2.   After you have presented one of your main ideas, summarize it for the audience, and highlight what will come next. For example, “Now that we have reviewed the rationale for our company’s new auditing program, let’s take a closer look at each of the components in this process.”  

 3.    Use transitions as sign posts to alert the audience to key information. For example, “First, we will look at our company’s mission statement,” or “Finally, we will discuss how our company is positioned against our competition,” or even "The most important idea I want you to remember is....."

 4.    Signal when your talk is almost over, and let the audience know what is going to be expected of them. For example, “Before we finish up today, I want to remind you to keep your eyes open for an email from me in the next day or so. You will receive information about our follow-up meeting next Friday.

 By using effective transition statements, you can “get there from here,” even without a GPS!

"I" Before "E" Except After "C"

Being a good speller certainly has its perks. You can ace your English tests, compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, or even be a contestant on Wheel of Fortune. And, if you grew up in certain parts of the world, good spelling is often a highly valued trait - often a source of parental pride, if not outright bragging.

But what if you just want to speak English well, and you are a non-native speaker? That is where the trouble often begins. You have to contend with silent letters (salmon, thumb), different pronunciations of letters (cough, phone), words borrowed from other languages with their own spelling quirks (silhouette, ballet, gourmet), words that are often pronounced incorrectly and thus spelled incorrectly (espresso vs. expresso), homonyms or similar sounding words that have different spellings and meanings (pore, poor, pour), and many more idiosyncrasies and challenges! So what can you do to survive?

Here are some tips for getting English spelling under control.

  1. Keep a personal spelling list: Write down words you frequently spell incorrectly. Include how you typically spell it (wrong), the accurate spelling, and any applicable spelling rules to help you remember it in the future.

  2. Be aware of standard North American vs. British English variations, such as pajamas vs. pyjamas, behavior vs. behaviour.

  3. Learn confusing word endings such as -ent vs. -ant and -able vs. -ible, such as relevant, recent, incapable, and invisible.

  4. Learn how to spell words with silent letters such as diaphragm, walk, thumb.

  5. Familiarize yourself with words containing double consonants such as accommodate, necessary, commitment, occasional, and ladder.

  6. Keep a list of words with unusual letter combinations such as ophthalmologist, psychologist, and fluorescent.

  7. Be aware of the different “sounds” various letters and letter combinations make. For instance, “ch” sounds different in Christmas, mustache, and kitchen. Check the RULES by the Sound spelling chart for additional examples.

  8. Know how to spell words that are often mispronounced such as espresso (correct) vs. expresso.

  9. Be careful not to rely blindly on spell-check features, since they make mistakes!

  10. Have easy access to a comprehensive dictionary (online, app, or book format), e.g. www.dictionary.com.


To learn more about idiosyncratic spelling, check out the charts in the RULES BY THE SOUND book.

Check out the word lists for idiosyncratic spellings in this book!

Check out the word lists for idiosyncratic spellings in this book!

Post some of your spelling challenges!




Faster Than a Speeding Bullet......

Fast, faster, fastest... These superlatives may be desirable when talking about Superman, speed dialing, speed dating, and fast food. However, speed talking can be hazardous to our communication!

In some parts of the world, such as in India, speaking rapidly is often associated with a high intelligence. For example, if you can talk fast, you must be able to think fast too. Teachers actually judge students as more intelligent, the faster they talk.

However, when people speak rapidly in academic settings or professional work environments in the United States, the response is not nearly as positive. It is often harder to understand what someone is saying if they speak very fast. If the speaker also has a strong foreign accent, excessively fast speech can confound the issue. People may even think you don’t have patience to talk to them, or that you are in a rush and/or feeling stressed. Some people associate fast talking with lack of honesty. You might even convey that what you have to say is unimportant, so why should they even listen?

So, how can you effectively slow down to be more understandable to your American audience?

   Insert a strategic pause before or after making an important remark. This is an excellent way to “punctuate” your message, and allow your listeners to catch up if they missed or misunderstood any part of your message.

   S-T-R-E-T-C-H out your vowels. By making vowels higher in pitch, slightly louder and longer, you can slow down your speech. Try saying, “What do you w-ahh-nt,?” instead of “Whaddyawant?” and you can see how effective this technique can be. 

   If you are giving a presentation, mark your script or notes with notations such as / for pauses and // to remind you to stop and take a replenishing breath when you transition from one idea to the next.

   Understand and use stress and intonation rules that allow you to vary inflection instead of racing through messages at the same pitch, volume, and rate. See RULES on the Run ( www.eslrules.com) for information on stress rules for compound nouns, proper nouns, etc. By making these subtle adjustments, you can slow your speech down in a natural sounding way, and make your speech easier to understand.

   Read a short paragraph aloud and record yourself. Read for one minute and the count how many words you read. The average rate of speech should be 160-170 words/per minute. Critique how you sound. If you are rushing through the text without pausing, and not stressing word endings, try again.

   Read along with a recording such as books on tape. Try to make yourself comfortable with a slower pace.

If you want to impress people with your intellect, take time to make thoughtful remarks, using relevant and concise vocabulary. Don’t race through your conversations, and, if necessary, go easy on the caffeine!

If you would like additional help speaking at a listener-friendly rate, contact us at: info@eslrules.com.

What Every ESOL Teacher Needs...

RULES classroom packageAre you looking for unique, relevant and effective materials to teach pronunciation? Look no further!
This program includes:
Print out activities, quizzes, PowerPoint slideshow, tip sheets for each rule, and watch video lessons
  • RULES BY THE SOUND Teacher's Edition (regularly $120) learn about it
Print or email sound-loaded stories to your students
  • RULES ON THE RUN- pad of 25 color tear-off charts that can be personalized by each student (regularly $18) learn about it 
Save preparation time, textbook costs, and use a cutting-edge, practical approach to pronunciation training for quick and lasting results!
REGULAR COST: $263                         PACKAGE COST: $225

How Do We Say Halloween?


The topic of Halloween came up with one of my non-native English speaking speaking clients. He asked me why we stress the last part of that word, e.g., "HalloWEEN." It got me thinking.....Halloween was originally called All Hallow's Evening. "Evening" was shortened to "e'en. " So we are actually saying an adjective +noun and should therefore stress the noun, "e'en".

What about other holidays? How do we stress them? Remember, we stress with a higher pitch, louder voice, and longer vowelin the stressed syllable. Let's find some patterns:

Holidays with the word "day" are treated as compound nouns. Stress the first part of the holiday.

             Valentine's Day             Presidents' Day         Memorial Day

             Labor Day                      Flag Day                     Veterans Day

             Election Day                  Columbus Day          Groundhog Day

             Mother's Day                 Father's Day              Independence Day

Note: when we use "day" with multiple words, resort to the adjective + noun or proper noun rule, e.g., St. Patrick's Day, April Fool’s Day.

Exception: New Year's Day

Holidays with "Eve" are adjectives + noun: stress the last part

Christmas Eve                        New Year's Eve

Here are some other holidays that are adjectives + nouns:

Good Friday                           Easter Sunday                   April Fools

Ash Wednesday                     Palm Sunday

There are a few single name holidays:

Easter                                      Christmas                          Thanksgiving

Then, we have holidays that are derived from other languages. Notice, with most 2-3 word holidays, we stress the last part.

Rosh Hashanah                    Yom Kippur                      Cinco de Mayo

Hanukkah /Chanukah        Kwanzaa

What other holidays can you think of? Let us know.

Pronunciation Objectives in the ESOL Classroom

It’s a challenge to integrate pronunciation objectives into an already packed ESOL curriculum.  Other curriculum priorities, time constraints, and teachers’ comfort levels often leave pronunciation and suprasegmentals at the bottom of the list. How can we seamlessly integrate these objectives into the current curriculum?

By learning the stress, intonation, and pronunciation rules that guide American English, ELL (English Language Learners) students can adopt a more listener-friendly communication style, gain confidence, and succeed both academically and professionally.

There are specific rules that help the ELL master the suprasegmentals and pronunciation of American English that can be incorporated into other activities. When a word or syllable is stressed, it is produced with a higher pitch, louder voice, and longer vowel.

Here is a sample of some of the numerous rules that can be addressed in the classroom:

  1. Compound Nouns: Stress the first part of a compound noun, e.g., laptop, whiteboard, midterms.
  2. Adjectives + Nouns: Stress the noun, unless you are contrasting the word, e.g., blue pen; for contrast say, “Please use a blue pen, not a black pen.”
  3. Proper Nouns: Stress the last word, e.g., United States of America, United Nations, The Language Institute.
  4. Initializations (abbreviations that are pronounced one letter at a time): Stress the last letter, e.g., USA, MBA, GRE, ELL
  5. Past Tense: If the last sound of the verb is voiced, pronounced the ending as “d”, e.g., listened, loved; if the last sound is voiceless, pronounce the ending as “t”, e.g., walked, coughed, and if the verb ends in “d” or “t,” add an extra syllable, “ed,” e.g., waited, coded.

The written text can be highlighted to identify the rule patterns. Provide the students with any text to read.1 Highlight the rules with an assigned color.2  Practice reading sentences aloud while following the pronunciation pattern for that rule. This will give the ELL student a practical way to focus on suprasegmentals while addressing other classroom objectives.

Help your students learn the rules for clear and comprehensible speech while still accomplishing your curriculum objectives.


1 Feinstein-Whittaker, M and Wilner, LK, RULES By the Sound, Owings Mills, MD: Successfully Speaking, © 2009.

2 Feinstein-Whittaker, M and Wilner LK, RULES on the Run, Owings Mills, MD: Successfully Speaking, ©2014.

Is it Marionberry or Marion Barry? Does your accent change the meaning?

On our recent trip to Portland, Oregon for the TESOL (Teachers of English for Speakers of Other Languages ) convention, we passed a local bakery. In the display case, Lynda noticed a label in front of a pastry for a marionberry scone. Unfamiliar with this berry, she asked Marjorie, "What is marionberry?" In jest, Marjorie said, "Perhaps it is named after the former disgraced mayor of Washington, D.C."Ten minutes later, Lynda went to purchase coffee, and saw yet another marionberry scone displayed at a coffee shop. As Lynda chatted to an ESOL teacher from Idaho, she asked the same question. He also chuckled, "I don't know. Do you think it could be named after the Washington, D.C. major?"

Why did they both choose to respond in the same manner?


 What is the difference between marionberry and Marion Barry?  

It's all in the stress (and even pronunciation of the vowels!). This can be the key when learning to modify or reduce a foreign accent. It clearly affects our ability to understand each other. 

marion barry
marion barry

After reading the label, Lynda accurately assumed it was a compound noun and stressed the first word... MARIONberry. Since the others didn't see the word, they were able to play with the stress pattern to pronounce it as a proper noun and make an amusing comment...... Marion BARRY.

The moral to this story is.....the way we stress compound nouns vs. proper nouns can completely change the meaning and add humor or sarcasm. We also pronounce vowels differently in various parts of the United States.

To learn more about this pronunciation rule, check out these videos.

To learn more about this Oregon "blackberry," click here. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marionberry

Check out our other RULES and products to master the American English Accent at www.eslrules.com.

Can You Take a Compliment?

thank you  

“Aw, it was nothing...” ‘I didn’t do anything special...” “I was just part of the team that worked on it...”



For a lot of people, it is very difficult to accept a compliment. Many of our non-native English speaking clients tell us they grew up in a culture where accepting a compliment is considered rude and even boastful.

In the United States, if anything, we are accused of over-using compliments. Recently, there have been many psychology books admonishing this tendency, because many children begin to feel like they are the center of the universe and can do no wrong! Obviously, we need to strike a balance between both extremes.

In the American culture, if you do receive a compliment, it is expected that you will respond politely and honestly to the praise. Certainly a modest response is more favorable than a blatant conceited response. For example,

Compliment: “You did a great job facilitating the meeting this morning.”

Response #1: “I know. I am an amazing team leader.”

Response #2: “Thank you.”

For compliments to be meaningful, we need to be sincere and specific. Instead of telling a client or student, “You are doing great,” it is more helpful to say, “I like the way your took meaningful pauses between your thoughts. It helped you slow down your speech, and made me really focus on your ideas.” In addition, we want our clients and students to know when they are doing something correctly so that they will continue to utilize a trained strategy or technique. Constantly negating or down-playing feedback is not going to help our client gain the necessary self-awareness and confidence to improve.

Here are some expressions that are acceptable to use when someone has offered a sincere compliment:

  • Thank you, thanks
  • That’s nice to hear
  • You are kind to say that
  • I appreciate your comments
  • I’m happy that you liked (it)
  • Thanks for saying that

So remember when giving compliments, be honest and specific, and when receiving them, be gracious. If you need help with social communication skills, contact us at info@eslrules.com.

Do nonnative professionals with accents have a glass ceiling?

We found a study by Juang, Frideger, and Pearce in the Journal of Applied Psychology (2013, Vol. 98. No. 6), that has received a lot of  remarks on some of the LinkedIn groups. According to the research, there are an estimated one billion nonnative speakers of English in the workplace. A study tested a theory that there is a perception that nonnative speakers have weak political skills. What did they mean by political skills? The authors of this article included competencies of interpersonal influence, social astuteness, networking ability, and sincerity.

Nonnative speakers were less likely to be recommended for middle management positions. These individuals had all of the same qualifications as the  native speakers except for their accents and they were 16% less likely to be offered executive positions. In a second study, nonnative speakers had a lower likelihood of receiving new-venture funding. The entrepreneurs with nonnative accents were 23% less likely to receive investment funding than those without accents. However, race, communication skills, and collaborative skills did not have an significant effect on the outcome. The greatest difference was political skills.

It appears that hiring professionals and investors of new ventures should become more aware of nonnative-accent bias to prevent them from missing the opportunity of hiring the best executives or making the best investment decisions. To read the article click here.

How Do We Say "oi" and "oy"?

English is fraught with pronunciation and spelling challenges. Our accent modification clients are often puzzled with these RULES. Here is another tip to help you or your clients or  students in the ESOL classroom decipher some of the mysteries. A diphthong (pronounced "dif-thong") is a combination of two vowels. The letter combinations “oi” and “oy” are diphthongs and sound alike. The “oi” spelling is usually found in the middle of words, and the “oy” spelling typically occurs at the end. Of course, there will be exceptions to this rule.

When producing this diphthong, keep the tip of your tongue on the floor of your mouth, right behind your lower teeth. Your tongue is slightly lower than for the /o/ vowel. Round your lips slightly. Then shift to the high /I/ vowel by retracting your lips. Lift the tongue blade high in your mouth and move it toward the front of your mouth. Press the sides of your tongue against your upper teeth (molars). [audio wav="http://www.eslrules.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/oi-vowel.wav"][/audio]

Practice saying the following words and sentences aloud to practice this sound.

Record yourself, or try our Roy Moyers story in the RULES BY THE SOUND book or on the RULES BY THE SOUND online pronunciation platform http://www.eslrules.com/rbts-online/rulesbythesound






toy                              boy                             joy                               enjoy                       annoy

destroy                      coy                              employ                        deploy                     corduroy

rejoice                       voice                           foil                               boil                           point

boisterous                 noise                           poised                         coins                        avoid

moist                          broil                           appointment                choice                       join

 Now practice these sentences:

1. The secretary gave the lawyer the invoice, and was told to void it.

2. I try to avoid reading the tabloids because the stories annoy me.

3. When you crinkle aluminum foil, it makes a funny noise.

4. Can you point to where the dress is soiled?

5. I dropped some coins in the toy store and the little boy found them.

Add some of your own words below.


Find our RULES BY THE SOUND and other products for accent modification at our ESL RULES WEB STORE. 

Improving Communication Skills in Healthcare

esl rulesLynda Katz Wilner and Marjorie Feinstein-Whittaker, co-founders of ESL RULES  (www.eslrules.com), recently wrote an article published by The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association in the December 2013 issue of Perspectives on Communication Disorders in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Populations. The following is an overview with excerpts from the article. Click the link at the end to read the article in its entirely.


Hospital reimbursements are linked to patient satisfaction surveys, which are directly related to interpersonal communication between provider and patient. In today’s healthcare environment, interactions are challenged by diversity-Limited English proficient (LEP) patients, medical interpreters, International Medical Graduate (IMG) physicians, nurses, and support staff. Accent modification training for health care professionals can improve patient satisfaction and reduce adverse events. Surveys were conducted with medical interpreters and trainers of medical interpreting programs to determine the existence and support for communication skills training, particularly accent modification, for interpreters and non-native English speaking medical professionals. Results of preliminary surveys suggest the need for these comprehensive services. 60.8% believed a heavy accent, poor diction, or a different dialect contributed to medical errors or miscommunication by a moderate to significant degree. Communication programs should also include cultural competency training to optimize patient care outcomes. Examples of strategies for training are included.

Key Points

  • Hospitals and medical centers in the United States are rich with diverse providers, ancillary staff, and patient populations. Each culture has its own value system, communication style, and beliefs about health and illness.
  • These diverse providers and patient populations provide a growing niche for speech-language pathologists (SLPs) and other communication consultants to provide communication training in the workplace. 
  • A comprehensive accent modification program should address skills for efficiency, adaptability, clarity, credibility, active listening, and empathy.
  • Assessment of the health care provider’s ability to pronounce medically related vocabulary and scenarios should be included. RULES  and materials for improving communication in healthcare are discussed.
  • Health care providers need to understand and know how to appropriately respond to the unique social, cultural, and economic influences affecting their patients (Gray, 2013).


Improved health care and cultural communication impacts the overall experience for both the English speaking  and LEP patient, IMGs or United States Medical Graduate physicians, and the diverse nursing and support staff. Consequently, patient satisfaction, delivery of positive outcomes, the facility’s reputation, and decreased risk exposure of the hospital are the end product of effective language and cultural communication. In the new health care model, this will ultimately improve the sustainability of medical systems in the United States. As SLPs, (speech-language pathologists) we can have a substantial and positive impact facilitating clear, understandable, and compassionate communication amongst all of the parties involved.

Perspectives article ASHA 2013

Contact us about any curriculum or materials needs. We also conduct workshops to medical professionals.


Is it "ate" or "it"?

Our clients who speak English as a Second Language (ESL) and are enrolled in accent modification training are often are perplexed by pronunciation RULES. How do we pronounce “-ate” when it appears at the end of a word?  We've covered this in our RULES student workbook, but let’s look at more examples. The World Dictionary defines the “-ate” suffix in the following manner: For adjectives, it is used to denote the appearance or characteristics of the noun, e.g., fortunate. For nouns, it denotes an office, rank, or group with certain functions, e.g., senate, electorate. These words can also become verbs, e.g., separate, graduate, liberate.

The pronunciation changes according to the part of speech. The same word that can be used as a noun/adjective or a verb, but is stressed or pronounced differently and has a different  meaning, is called a heteronym. Check our video on two and three syllable heteronyms.

For all of the three and four syllable words ending in “-ate,” place the primary stress on the first syllable, regardless of the part of speech. However, for nouns or adjectives, the last syllable is not stressed and it is pronounced as “it.” For verbs, the last syllable has secondary stress and  is pronounced as “ate.”

Some of the words below are heteronyms and will be indicated with an asterisk.*

VERBS – pronounce the last syllable as “ate”

liberate                               equivocate                        corroborate                        integrate

indicate                              interrogate                        appreciate                          hesitate

segregate                           alleviate                              ameliorate                         hibernate

meditate                             terminate                          germinate                         elongate

aggravate                           participate                         concentrate                       communicate

translate                            anticipate                           hyphenate                         relegate

depreciate                         discriminate                       proliferate                        disseminate

dominate*                         conjugate*                         laminate*                          coordinate*

subordinate*                    graduate*                           estimate*                           syndicate*

separate*                           moderate*                         delegate*                            elaborate*


ADJECTIVES OR NOUNS- pronounce the last syllable as “it”

intimate                             fortunate                            inordinate                         electorate

consulate                           passionate                          separate*                           moderate*

indiscriminate                  elaborate*                          coordinate*                       graduate*

estimate*                           syndicate*                          delegate*                           duplicate*

Let us know of some more examples that you found. Check out more RULES in RULES Student Workbook.rules

Contact us to learn how to master the RULES.

What About Spell Check?

spell check
spell check

English spelling is a challenge, even for computers! Here is a reprint of a recently re-circulated poem on LinkedIn that highlights the "dangers" of putting too much trust into your computer's spell-check feature. This can lead us down the wrong path of communication. For those speaking English as a Second Language, who have less familiarity with English, the results can be somewhat amusing, if not embarrassing. Look at the passage below and see if you can make the necessary corrections. We'd love to hear from you to see if you know of any other similar passages:  

Eye halve a spelling chequer

It came with my pea sea

It plainly marques four my revue

Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.

Eye strike a key and type a word

And weight four it two say

Weather eye am wrong oar write

It shows me strait a weigh.

As soon as a mist ache is maid

It nose bee fore two long

And eye can put the error rite

Its rare lea ever wrong.

Eye have run this poem threw it

I am shore your pleased two no

Its letter perfect awl the weigh

My chequer tolled me sew.

Check out our communication products for non-native English speakers. Effective communication entails proper language, pronunciation, and writing skills. www.eslrules.com.

Is Silence Golden?

They say that silence is golden. Whether or not that maxim rings true, silent letters can be perplexing to second language learners and can be challenging for their pronunciation. Our clients who attend accent modification/accent reduction classes realize that effective communication involves mastering these idiosyncratic rules. Of course there are many exceptions, but the following are examples of some common words containing letters that should not be pronounced. /b/ is often silent when following /m/ at the end of a word

comb                   tomb                    climb                    thumb                 dumb

/b/ is often silent preceding /t/ in a word

debt                      doubt

/l/ is often silent when followed by /m/

palm                     salmon                 psalm                   calm                     balm

/l/ is often silent when followed by /k/

talk                       walk                     chalk                    yolk                        folk   

/gh/ is often silent

daughter              through                although              dough                   taught

/g/ is often silent when followed by /m/ or /n/

align                     foreign                 resign                   malign                   ensign                 

/w/ is often silent before /r/

written                 wreath                 wrap                     wrought                wrong

/t/ is often silent at the ends of words

ballet                    cabaret                gourmet                  bouquet                buffet   

/k/ is often silent before /n/

knight                  knit                       knife                     kneel                      knot

/p/ is often silent

receipt                 pneumonia          raspberry             psychologist

/st/ can be silent

listen                    whistle                 thistle                   glisten

 /ch/  can be silent


/h/ is silent in the beginning of some words:

honor                   herbal                   honest                  heirs                      honorable

There are many more examples of silent letters in the English language, and exceptions to the “RULES” mentioned above.

Let us know which words you can  find.rulesrulesbythesound

To learn more about pronunciation variations for English consonants and vowels and practice their pronunciation variations,  please see RULES By the Sound.   the RULES by the Sound Pronunciation Platform, and RULES: Rules for Using Linguistic Elements of Speech.

Malapropisms and Verbal Missteps

  We have all done it! Regardless of whether or not English is our first language, sometimes what comes out of our mouths isn't what we intended.

malapropisms  - noun  /ˈmæl ə prɒpˌɪz əm/

Definition: an amusing error that occurs when a person mistakenly uses a word that sounds like another word but that has a very different meaning.

We are collecting examples of this entertaining verbal missteps. Please add any ones that you encounter.

"Obama Steaks" (Omaha Steaks)

"I heard her over-talking about..."  (I overheard her talking.)

"It was straight from the mouth of the horse." (It was straight from the horse's mouth.)

Gloria, in Modern Family, is a master of mispronunciation and malapropisms. This clip captures both the humor and the frustrations of non-native English communication.

Here are some more malapropisms:

"For all intensive purposes" (for all intents and purposes)

"I will take a look at your website and get back to you when a need rises." (a need arises)

"I’ll meet you at the Christian Silence Reading Room (Christian Science Reading Room)


Often, idioms are misused. The substitution of a single word may change the meaning entirely. For example, if you told someone to "break an arm," it would not convey the expression for good luck, which is "break a leg." For more idioms, check our Medically Speaking Idioms in our webstore at http://www.eslrules.com/product/medically-speaking-idioms-audio-cd/

We'd love to hear from you.

Tips for Teaching When You Have an Accent

One of our clients recently earned her PhD  after many long, hard years of study.  Since she knew she wanted to pursue a career in academia, she took accent modification and presentation skills training to prepare her for her oral dissertation and job interviews. As busy as she was, she devoted as much time as possible to her independent self-study between sessions. She made tremendous progress and was able to secure a faculty position at a university of her choice.

Although she was a “listener-friendly” speaker by this point, she wanted some pointers to maximize her "understandability"  in the classroom setting.

The following are some useful tips if you or your students are in a similar situation:

  1. Acknowledge your accent and give your students “permission” to request a repetition or clarification if they don’t understand something you said.
  2. Make sure you are FACING THE CLASS while speaking. DO NOT talk while writing on the board or looking at the screen!
  3. Speak at a slightly slower rate than normal. This may be difficult if you are nervous, so be sure to PAUSE after important points, and use deep slow breaths to calm you down.
  4. Practice your lecture ALOUD ahead of time. Make a note of any particularly challenging words, and make sure you are using the correct stress pattern.
  5. If you have to use unfamiliar words that are difficult to pronounce, either write them down or provide additional information or context, e.g., “The test will not be cumulative; in other words, the exam will only cover content from the midterm to the final.”

By following these tips, you will enhance the quality of your presentation skills. Let us know if you have any other suggestions.

Accent Modification "Milestones"

Business group portrait

A lot of adults considering accent modification training subscribe to the adage, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Although it is more difficult to change speech habits after the teen years, with awareness and practice, a successful outcome (sometimes described as listener-friendly speech) is a reasonable, attainable goal. What factors influence individual performance in changing speech behavior?

The following factors must be considered:

• The perceived strength of the accent (vowel and consonant production, intonation patterns, etc.) • Overall English language proficiency • The presence of any cognitive, speech-language or hearing disorders such as dyslexia, ADHD, etc. • Motivation and time devoted to independent practice • Responsiveness to constructive feedback • Current employment situation/responsibilities • Career aspirations • Support network • Insight into communication differences

Clients enrolled in a weekly 12-16 week program typically begin to notice concrete changes at approximately the mid-point of training. At that time, clients may begin to report that they can identify and self-correct speech differences in their own speech. They are also more aware of the speech patterns of others, and report that they are better listeners because they are more tuned in to the subtleties of communication.

At the end of training, clients typically are more consistent with their mainstream sound production, and use intonation patterns that are more in line with native speakers. They often speak more slowly, project their voice more appropriately, and have a greater sense of confidence when speaking to both native and non-native English speakers. They often realize that they no longer have to repeat themselves.

It is important to note that everyone progresses at a different rate, and the end results vary. However, despite the challenging and demanding nature of this type of training, with positive and constructive input, time, and patience, accent training can be a powerful and empowering pursuit.